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#StartSpeaking: Play sets to put sexual violence in the spotlight

Josa Lukman

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, February 19, 2020  /  01:02 pm
#StartSpeaking: Play sets to put sexual violence in the spotlight

Facing the music: Actor Muhammad Khan (second left), music director Wishnu Dewanta (center), actress-jazz singer Mian Tiara (second right) and actress-journalist Marissa Anita rehearse for 'Belakang Panggung', to be staged in March in Jakarta. (Courtesy of Belakang Panggung/-)

Portrayals of sexual violence were once largely confined to episodes of Law & Order: SVU, but in an era when the #MeToo movement has come to dominate conversations in the United States, one Indonesian production aims to bring the subject into the spotlight.

Titled Belakang Panggung (Backstage), the musical drama could be described as “a play within a play” as it tells the story of an actress grappling with sexual harassment and the indifference with which she is met by her fellow cast members.

Jazz singer and actress Mian Tiara plays the lead role of Rani, a struggling actress who receives her big break as one of the leads in a production helmed by noted director Teguh Santoso (Kiki Narendra).

During rehearsals, Rani deals with sexual harassment from costar Aditya (Rama Widi), who is incidentally Teguh’s son. Dealing with Aditya’s advances on one side and apathy from other cast members on the other, Rani’s role on stage is a far cry from the reality backstage, as she must portray someone deeply in love with her soulmate, as played in the show by Aditya.

Getting into character: Kiki Narendra (left) rehearses for his role as director Teguh Santoso.Getting into character: Kiki Narendra (left) rehearses for his role as director Teguh Santoso. (Courtesy of Belakang Panggung/-)

A slew of other industry veterans are attached to Belakang Panggung, including Muhammad Khan and Marissa Anita. The production is directed by Andrew Trigg, who also cowrote the script alongside Mario Hasan, who also serves as the lyricist.

Trigg, with his decades of experience, said that he had never seen sexual violence as a topic addressed in the form of a musical drama in his 30 years living in Indonesia.

“We deliberately created a musical drama to explore what is seen on stage – a lavish, lighthearted musical, but we know that there are terrible things happening backstage where people are suffering but are expected to not speak up because they will take the blame,” he said, adding that the team wanted the audience to ponder the contrast.

Due to the sensitive theme of the production – which will be staged on March 6-8 at Institut Française d'Indonesia in Jakarta with tickets priced at Rp 350,000 (US$25.61) – trigger warnings will be provided and an on-location psychological support will be provided by sexual violence survivors’ support group Lentera Sintas Indonesia.

Belakang Panggung itself is part of Lentera Sintas Indonesia’s campaign, #MulaiBicara (#StartSpeaking), which was launched in 2016. 

Producer Airin Efferin said she was a victim of sexual violence and was in a position where no one was able to help her.

“When the campaign was launched and I received the email from as endorsed by [Marissa], I felt like hope still existed, I was not alone, and that something could change,” she said during a press conference.

Through Marissa, Airin got in touch with Sophia Hage, the public campaign director of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, and Dimas Subagio, who coproduced Belakang Panggung alongside Airin.

The idea of creating a theatrical production was conceptualized from Airin’s experience in music and stage performances, and told “through the eyes of those who know what it is, have seen it, experienced it, dealt with it, lived with it and survived it”.

Though the production is especially notable in its theme – particularly in regard to American film producer Harvey Weinstein’s ongoing trial for alleged sexual abuse, Dimas told The Jakarta Post the play’s script began before Weinstein’s case became widely known.

“When Harvey’s conduct came to light and #MeToo became a movement, our crew were like, ‘would you look at that’. It’s like, what we do really does matter, and that we’re not far off,” he says. 

“We’re glad to know we’re bringing out an issue that’s in tune with something that’s actually happening and needs attention. #MeToo has had good traction Stateside, but in other cultures, not so much,” he added, raising hope the production can lend a hand to similar movements here.

For some, the issue of sexual violence may be rather hard to stomach. Sophia, who is also a physician, said the theatrical approach was chosen to help get the message more easily across.

“Even today, when I talk about Belakang Panggung, some say it is ‘scary’. But it’s not something frightening: it’s something that we don’t know how to tackle. Maybe that’s how they got frightened, because we’ve never learned how to deal with it as a society,” she said.

Sophia said in some cases perpetrators will get punished, but then the system is at a loss as to what to do for the victim, and then moves on to the next case.

“There are no systematic or structural changes to make sure [that it doesn’t happen again]. We cannot erase sexual violence, but we can ensure that when it happens, we are ready to support the survivors and respond as a safe space.” (ste)

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